The big day is over. After months of legal wrangling – and more than 100 days after the release of his report detailing Russia’s attempts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election – former special counsel Robert Mueller took questions from Capitol Hill lawmakers for hours on Wednesday.
(Mueller testified before the House Judiciary Committee in the morning and the House Intelligence Committee in the afternoon.)
I watched all of it and collected my key takeaways in real time. They’re below.
1. Trump’s tweets showed how anxious he actually was
President Donald Trump and his aides have gone out of their way to paint the President as annoyed but unconcerned about Mueller’s testimony. “No, I’m not going to be watching, probably, maybe I’ll see a little bit of it,” Trump told reporters on Monday in the Oval Office. “I’m not going to be watching Mueller because you can’t take all those bites out of the apple. We had no collusion, no obstruction.”
Except that Trump’s Twitter feed – a direct window into how he’s thinking and feeling at any given time – sent the exact opposite message. By 8:15 a.m. on the east coast, the President had already sent seven tweets about the Mueller hearing, tweets that largely revisited many of his old hobby horses, like this one: “Why didn’t Robert Mueller & his band of 18 Angry Democrats spend any time investigating Crooked Hillary Clinton, Lyin’ & Leakin’ James Comey, Lisa Page and her Psycho lover, Peter S, Andy McCabe, the beautiful Ohr family, Fusion GPS, and many more, including HIMSELF & Andrew W?”
Is that the tweet of a man who is entirely unworried about what the former special counsel would say – and what it might mean for his political future? Yeah, I don’t think so either.
2. Mueller disappointed Republicans
In his opening statement, Mueller made clear that he would be unable to address anything related to the origins of the counterintelligence investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election or the so-called “Steele dossier,” an opposition research document put together by former British spy Christopher Steele.
President Trump has long insisted that the entire investigation – the initial probe which led to the appointment of the special counsel and all that followed from it – was illegal because it was based on the Steele document, which contained research that was partially funded by Hillary Clinton and the Democratic National Committee.
Mueller’s affirmation that he would not answer any questions about the genesis of the probe and/or the Steele dossier took a major line of questioning off the table for Republicans.
3. … and Democrats
In that same opening statement, Mueller said he would not address any questions involving Attorney General William Barr or the actions of Congress. That’s a big blow for Democrats, who very much wanted to explore differences in public statements about the special counsel investigation between Mueller and Barr, particularly as it related to how Barr characterized the findings of the report on obstruction.
4. Mueller was shaky – especially at the start
If Democrats hoped that Mueller would easily bat away Republican attacks – on him and on his report – they were sorely disappointed in the opening moments of his testimony. Mueller seemingly contradicted himself (and the report) when he told Georgia Rep. Doug Collins, the ranking Republican member on the committee, that collusion and conspiracy were not the same thing.
Mueller also seemed to struggle to hear and/or understand questions from member of both sides as well as to find various references members were making to the Mueller report, asking for questions to be repeated. Democrats viewed the hearing as a chance for the public to hear what the President did (and didn’t do) from a straight-out-of-central-casting prosecutor. Mueller didn’t come across like that.